Stop tampering with the COVID data if you want to control it

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Indian COVID 19 infection numbers went down last couple of days below 4 lakh but again reached well above 4 lakh today on 6th May. But, how credible are these numbers? Some of the states have a test positivity rate of 50% which simply means that governments are not testing enough. In absence of in-adequate testing, there is no enough data regarding the extent of spread and nature of this virus. In addition, a question stares on our face as to how are we going to design any strategy to control the disease if we do not know the extent of it?

The data does not tally up

I have read many accounts from both Indian and foreign media about how the data is not reported. They are mostly the ground reports from the cremation places or from the hospital deaths or from many other sources. I do not have any such survey access, but I tried to use some data correlation. And, it simply does not tally up.

Population of Delhi is 2 crore. Crude natural death rate for Delhi is 3.3 per thousand. That means in normal circumstances, when there is no COVID, 66000 people die in Delhi every year which implies a daily death of 180. This includes all religions using different modes of last rites. I don’t want to go in to the details of how many for which religion. My assertion is that In Delhi, all crematoriums and burials have the capacity to cater to this number of death daily and there is hardly any waiting time. In addition, in normal circumstances, there is no turn around time for completing the last rites. People are relaxed with all their cremation rituals that they do.

What is happening now. We have crematoriums working 24 hours and the waiting times are 4 to 8 times for the corpses to be burnt. In addition, at several places, the capacity of these crematoriums have been increased by expanding the areas of parking and other adjoining lands. This means, the throughput of the system has increased to an extent that even after the capacity has been increased ( by increasing number of burning areas or increasing number of burial places and reducing the turn around time per cremation/last rite), the waiting time for completing the last rites has increased 3 to 4 times. These statistics simply suggest that the total number of deaths happening is far more than 180 per day. for a 50 to 60 % rise in the number of deaths, the system will not be overwhelmed and the waiting time will not increase by 3 to 4 times. If we model this in queueing theory model, the numbers will be several times of the daily normal average. I do not want to make this a mathematical problem solving article so staying away from going any further in explanation. The only thing I would like to conclude is that Government’s assertion that there are only about 350 deaths in Delhi does not reconcile.

Data tampering creates mistrust in the system

People at the ground and those who are returning from the cremation or burial areas do not need the knowledge of queueing theory to know that the death numbers are very high. The may not know how high, but; the misery all around will only force them to think and assume the worst. If they can not look at the government for the truth, they will only start believing on rumors. It is in government’s interest to keep the system honest by publishing the true figures. We are not at war with another country where we have to manage our tactical positioning by controlling the spread of casualty numbers. We are at war with an enemy which feeds on negligence and complacency. Accurate information is the biggest weapon with the government to enforce appropriate behavior among people. If the data is questionable, the orders which are based on these questionable data will also receive cold response.

Only Truth – however hard it may be, always helps in finding a right path towards the solution for the situatiom.

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